On July 23, the U.S. Department of Education granted New Jersey’s request for renewal of its flexibility waiver under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The flexibility waiver request was approved for three years without conditions.

“With this renewal, New Jersey will be able to continue implementing its plans to promote innovative, locally tailored strategies to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction,” said Ann Whalen, acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, in a letter to New Jersey Education Commissioner David C. Hespe.

The federal education department established the waiver process to provide states flexibility from the prescriptive provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which required 100 percent of a school’s students to meet academic proficiency levels by 2014 or face possible interventions. New Jersey was one of 42 states that received flexibility waivers.

“New Jersey can take pride knowing that our efforts are leading to real improvements in student learning,” said Commissioner Hespe in a press release. “The flexibility allows New Jersey to continue to address the unique needs of our schools and students, and it helps us continue to focus on our goal that every child ultimately graduates prepared for success in college and career.”

The commissioner noted that, “Without this waiver, all of New Jersey schools would be declared ‘failing’ under the No Child Left Behind Act and would be compelled to implement federally required punitive corrective actions, such as loss of flexibility regarding spending.”

The strategies New Jersey uses to provide support for schools in need include identifying the schools which fall into the lowest-performing 5 percent as “Priority” schools, while those needing improvement in specific areas such as graduation rates or achievement gaps are classified as “Focus” schools. Those schools, as well as other Title I schools, are targeted to receive assistance from the state’s Regional Achievement Centers.

The waiver application also notes that that state has instituted its AchieveNJ system of evaluations for teachers and principals.

The U.S. Department of Education’s renewal letters are available on the ESEA flexibility page.

ESEA Comparison Chart Available  Even while New Jersey has received an ESEA waiver renewal, the U.S. Congress is working  on the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). On July 16, the U.S. Senate passed its version, while the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill on July 8. The two bills have differences that must be reconciled. On July 30, the National School Boards Association posted a revised chart that details the differences between the bills; the chart is available online here.